A property management system can bring together all the disparate parts of your establishment so you have everything in the palm of your hand, freeing you up to interact with your guests, says Rosalind Mullen
In today's data-driven, competitive world, a property management system (PMS) is undoubtedly central to ensuring all aspects of your ever-complex hotel operations run efficiently. Advancements in technology mean it can now handle everything from check-in to check-out, including reservations, room management, housekeeping, maintenance, payroll and, yes, even guest relations.
But to really sharpen their game, progressive hotel operators are embracing cloud-based PMS. "This is a major advancement that accelerates innovation in an era when cost, scalability and security pose major hurdles," says Agel.
There are plenty of advantages (see page 22). Unlike conventional software models that require the capital expense of purchasing licences and hardware, the cloud is sold as a service, which means you can buy as little or as much computing capability as you need. It involves very little on-site maintenance and offers good security - essential in an age of cyber-attacks where the need to protect business and customer information is critical. This is in part because there is no single point of failure for continued service and protection, and it enables greater PCI compliance.
And as these advancements continue apace, one of the big selling points of the cloud is that it is easy to add new software. There are hundreds of third-party solutions that can connect to a PMS - from tills to spas, Wi-Fi systems and channel management - and new systems are constantly being developed. Your PMS needs to make that new connectivity as easy as possible - open API documents should be available for new suppliers to connect to the PMS seamlessly.
More importantly, while a PMS allows you to automate administration, a cloud-based PMS goes further, allowing all staff to access essential information wherever they are: "The ability for PMS to capitalise on mobility, untethering staff to provide a personalised service to guests wherever they may be - and integrate with third-party innovations to accommodate guests' ever-changing needs are significant advancements," says Agel.
Calum McIndoe, sales director at Infor, agrees: "New PMS solutions come with a built-in app for mobile devices these days, so users no longer need to be tied to a desk or office. These apps will include mobile check-in and out, so guests don't necessarily have to be at a hotel front desk. It can also provide housekeepers with real-time data and real-time management reporting for meetings, a concierge can show guests local amenities from an iPad, and maintenance facilities can ensure that issues are dealt with quickly."
McIndoe points out that operators want to make better use of the vast amounts of data in the PMS to drive bookings and revenue and to provide successful CRM campaigns based on user profiles to entice guests to return.
"The potential to change business performance is huge," he says. "The PMS must provide data to other solutions to ensure it is selling rooms to maximise revenues. It can ensure staffing levels are correct and that guests are being looked after without overstaffing and wasting resource and money. It can provide data to reservations and websites to maximise the hotel's presence on the internet in real-time, so that all rooms are sold, and this data means we can communicate with our guests to ensure that we exceed their expectation during their stay."
He adds that hotels with energy management systems can set the room to the guest's preferred temperature at check-in. This not only pampers the guest, it ensures that vacant rooms are not being heated unnecessarily.
The bottom line is that your PMS can now help to enhance the guest's stay. "It's all about the guest experience," says McIndoe. "This includes giving guests the ability to choose their room, allowing them to check-in prior to arrival so there is no need to queue, to use their mobile to open the room door, and to check out without queueing and receive the invoice by email."
The personal touch
For sure, enhanced service is key to profitability. People used to stay at hotels to enjoy larger TVs, faster internet, bigger beds and better showers than they had at home, but these days guests typically own all of these so hotels need to differentiate.
Aditya Sanghi, chief executive and co-founder of hospitality tech firm Hotelogix.com says: "Hotel owners can spend less time managing multiple systems and more time improving guest experience by employing an effective PMS," says Sanghi. Administering rates, keeping a check on inventory availability and streamlining front and back office operations can be managed from one single dashboard. Not only this, bill-split and settlement for multiple PoS outlets can be easily done. In a nutshell, PMS is critical in every aspect."
He adds that a good PMS can forecast business trends and generate reports to help track performance, and by providing accurate information and reports on a centralised dashboard, it eases the decision-making process. It can also reduce the chance of double-bookings. An all-in-one PMS with two-way connectivity can update room inventory in real time.
The 68-bedroom Southcliffe Hotel in Folkstone, Kent, has introduced the Hotelogix cloud PMS and reports a number of benefits. With the old system, the hotel had faced instances of double-bookings and the slow reporting tool meant the business often lost two or three rooms per night on a busy weekend.
The new mobile app has changed all that. Cost-wise, the hotel is now saving about six man hours a day because bookings auto-populate. As room distribution is now managed more efficiently, the hotel can see the statistics of each booking, including lead time and monetary value. Also, the two-way interface means there are no incorrect bookings.
The PoS integration has helped increase the revenues, too, according to general manager Ian Jackson: "Our restaurant hardly upsold beverages, and when they did, someone would forget to charge to guest's account. Now with a tablet, the team can access the room number and charge accordingly," he says. "I can even use my smartphone to check-in clients, giving a more personal and speedy service."
Sanghi adds: "Hoteliers are using PMS to gain competitive advantage in terms of revenue per available room, average daily rate, scalability and reliability, and enhanced customer lifetime value, to name a few. With smart rate management features (occupancy-based pricing, dynamic pricing, seasonal pricing, and so on) and by leveraging the insightful data that PMS provides, one can maximise value out of each room sold even during low season."
Smaller operators can also benefit from PMS. Eviivo, for instance, builds PMS software that is suited to B&Bs and small independent hoteliers. Fundamentally, it enables owners to drive revenues by distributing available rooms across multiple OTAs. It also speeds up internal processes, including credit/debit card pre-authorisation, manages customer requirements and outstanding payments. It will send an automated email to guests before they arrive and a follow-up "thank you for staying" email, asking for feedback and recording customer preferences. Better still, it drives direct bookings by collecting customisable data for use in direct marketing.
Director Ruth Whitehead says: "PMS does two things. It enables small and independent hosts and hoteliers to illuminate their vacancy signs alongside larger chains online, and in doing so, compete effectively. It also streamlines the management of the disparate challenges and opportunities of running a B&B or small hotel. The amalgamation of these two streams is a great example of using a PMS platform to deliver competitive benefit."
So, whether your hotel is large or small, the message is that canny use of a PMS to communicate with guests before during and after their stay can help to create loyalty, drive direct bookings and cut down fees paid to the OTAs.
But McIndoe at Infor says more work needs to be done: "In terms of online booking I feel there is a fundamental change about to happen. Many [guests] think that in booking through an [OTA] channel they are booking directly with the hotel and - worse still - if that hotel has no rooms available on that channel customers assume there are no rooms available. More education is required I believe."
The top five ways a cloud-based PMS can affect performance
1 Accelerating growth
It enables reduced start-up and installation time at properties.
2 Enhancing innovation
Cloud's capability to continuously update software leads to more efficient development of innovative services.
3 Providing greater financial flexibility
Cloud facilitates financing by allowing a shift from CapEx to OpEx.
4 Increasing productivity
Performance can be enhanced across the board because cloud helps reduce training time and accelerate tasks such as check-in/check-out, housekeeping and maintenance.
5 Improving guest satisfaction and loyalty
The tandem of cloud and mobile solutions allows exceptional service to be delivered anywhere, any time, helping win customer allegiance.
Case study: Eynsham Hall, Witney, Oxfordshire
Eynsham Hall, a Grade II-listed mansion set in a 3,000-acre estate, has more than 130 guest rooms split across four buildings. Cathedral Hotels acquired the property in 2005 and invested in a £2.5m refurbishment programme.
As a result the property started to attract a more diverse guest portfolio and business grew. About 30% of its business is conference-based, making use of 43 meeting rooms on-site (40% booked via OTAs) and the remainder is weddings and private events.
However, the old PMS system was unable to tap into the new opportunities and support issues meant it could not integrate with third-party booking sites.
General manager Shaun Bowles explains: "We had a legacy system with basic reservation and check-in and out functionality. The lack of visibility, revenue data and property management processes meant we were effectively running the business blind. We lacked the ability to make strategic decisions. We knew that business was increasing, but we were in the frustrating position of not knowing how best to handle the growth opportunity in front of us."
In 2015, having researched the market, the hotel selected Infor, based on strong integration of the Infor EzRMS revenue management system with the Infor HMS hotel property management system - plus the system's focus on enhancing guest experience.
To prepare for the cloud-based option, broadband capability at the hotel had to be improved. "The option to deploy via the cloud and transfer costs into operating expenditure rather than a big capital investment was also a big attraction," says Bowles.
Deploying Infor EzRMS has led to a substantial improvement in the visibility of revenue for the hotel. Reservations, which arrive through a number of channels,
are fed directly into the RMS so the team can now manage the reservation instead of simply booking it. Direct bookings via the hotel's website have increased by about 300%. As a result, the distribution of room stock is a key capability.
The improvements in property operations are equally dramatic. For example, implementation of the Infor HMS Housekeeping Mobile app has affected the upkeep of the property's 136 bedrooms across the four buildings. Rather than time-consuming calls or physically running between buildings to update on housekeeping and room preparation progress, housekeeping staff now simply use the app on their mobile phones to notify management and reception when rooms are ready. At the start of the day, the app assigns rooms to be cleaned and notifies the housekeeping staff of any special requirements.
Altogether, the efficiencies have driven revenues up 32% and Bowles attributes half of this to improved revenue management technology and processes. "We always knew we could increase revenue," says Bowles. "We had high occupancy, driven by a good conference trade resurgence and strong group business at weekend. The missing piece of the puzzle was better reporting and the strategic changes that can be based on the analysis of that information. We now have revenue management capabilities that rival most major London hotels."
By Hannah Wright, product manager, Sage
The hospitality sector is characterised by seasonal staff and temporary contracts, which means the workforce is often in a state of flux. That can make it difficult to maintain accurate and complete information and to communicate effectively.
Internet (or cloud) technologies can simplify communications in both directions. For example, businesses that offer flexible online tools for employees can not only save time by reducing admin, but also benefit from increased productivity.
Functionality within a payroll solution, such as online timesheets, allows employees to submit timesheet information online, streamlining the process.
They can update the system with information almost anywhere, and at any time.
Similarly, with online payslips, employees can download and print their payslips whenever they need them, using a secure self-service portal.
Self-service is now a way of life, from banking to shopping. It's time to give your employees the same flexibility at work that they have at home.